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Alberta Teachers’ Association planning legal action over finance minister’s order affecting pension management

Click to play video 'UCP quietly passed order Alberta teachers say takes away their power over pensions' UCP quietly passed order Alberta teachers say takes away their power over pensions
WATCH ABOVE: (From Jan. 13, 2021) The Alberta Teachers' Association is angry with recent changes the UCP government has made that it says take control away from teachers when it comes to their pensions. Sarah Komadina reports – Jan 13, 2021

Angered by Finance Minister Travis Toews’ ministerial order that they say gives teachers less control over their pension investments, the Alberta Teachers’ Association said Tuesday that it now plans to take legal action in response to the move.

“This offensive and overreaching ministerial order, which negates promises made by government officials when passing Bill 22, needs to be stopped and we will turn to the courts to do so,” ATA president Jason Schilling said in a statement posted on the professional association’s website.

The ATA said its lawyers are working on a court application it plans to file and that “the foundations and basis of the association’s challenge will be revealed in due course before the courts.”

An order signed by Toews just before Christmas outlines terms around the transfer of management of teachers’ pensions from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund Board (ATRF) to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).

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The order came after Bill 22 passed, legislation that made sweeping changes aimed at reducing red tape in several different ministries.

The bill said the ATRF was required to use AIMCo as its investment manager but teachers were told the ATRF would still have a final say on matters.

Toews’ order includes a provision that says if the ATRF and AIMCo cannot agree, the minister of finance can intervene and create an agreement. The provision comes after the two entities failed to come to an investment management agreement (IMA) in 2020 after beginning negotiations once Bill 22 was passed in 2019.

The ATRF has said even though the order was signed on Dec. 23, it only became aware of it on Jan. 4.

READ MORE: Alberta government passes order that teachers say takes away their power over pensions

NDP Labour and Immigration Critic Christina Gray said earlier this month that she believes the timing of the order was no accident.

“They waited until teachers were swamped with the return of students, to online learning and back to school, to even mention that they were giving coercive control of the pensions to AIMCo.”

In a statement issued earlier this month, Toews said he believes the order was necessary “as a temporary measure to ensure that the pension plan remains appropriately managed.”

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“We are confident that ATRF and AIMCo will be able to come to an agreement,” he said at the time. “Once the parties agree to a final investment management agreement, the ministerial order will no longer be in effect.”

When asked for comment on the ATA’s plans to take legal action, Charlotte Taillon, the press secretary for Toews’ office, said “we cannot comment on pending or current legal action” and provided Global News with comments from the same statement issued earlier this month.

Schilling has said teachers are worried Toews’ order could take away their right to be consulted in the management of their pensions.

“Teachers were betrayed by their MLAs, the minister and the premier when this imposed IMA failed to live up to their promises made to respect the ATRF’s ability to direct the investment of teacher pension dollars,” Schilling said Tuesday.

“We will fight the order in court, but there still needs to be political accountability for the broken promises.”

–With files from Global News’ Allison Bench